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Center for Action and Contemplation
The Prophetic Path - Love and Liberation
The Prophetic Path - Love and Liberation

Forthtelling, Not Foretelling 

Sunday, August 13, 2023

For Richard Rohr, prophets do not foretell the future, but they do seem to anticipate futures that are shocking to the rest of us:   

Most of the prophets seem to be ordinary people who find themselves with a gift. Prophecy in the Bible is not a matter of foretelling, but—to play with the English language a bit—it’s forthtelling. Prophecy is speaking with such a forwardness of truth, direction, and passion that, after the fact, we say the prophet foretold it. It’s not that they’re really predicting something, it’s just that they have immense spiritual insight. The original Hebrew word for a prophet meant simply that: one who sees. A prophet is a seer who sees all the way through.  

The reason prophets can speak so clearly and strongly in the now is because they judge the now from, of all places, the future. Prophets have seen the future. In other words, they have seen where God is leading humanity. They have seen and drawn close to the heart of God and they know God is leading us somewhere good. Since they know the conclusion and where it is that we’re heading, they become impatient and angry at the present state of things. If we know where history is going and what God is leading us toward; if we know what our lives could and should be, why are we wasting time with all this violence and all this stupidity?  

The prophets judge the present by the perspective of the future. Perhaps that’s how we began to think that prophets foretold the future—because they forthtold the future. They were the original futurists. The fancy, theological word for this is eschatology. The prophets live out of this futuristic vision of God’s dream for the world, where God is leading history, and where it’s all headed. Prophets become so infatuated with that final ideal goal and vision that they become passionately sad and angry about what we’re doing now. Once we experience the universal being of God, the present becomes so dissatisfying and disappointing. We wonder how people can be satisfied with so little and content with such tawdry lives. [1] 

Another way to say it is that the prophet gives us a direction and vision of the whole. For most people, history was circular; it wasn’t going any place in particular. But the prophet gives history a goal, aim, and direction and calls history forward. This is essential because if we don’t have a sense that history is going somewhere, we will go in circles and our lives will become meaningless. We enter a kind of existential absurdity with no direction in which many people become caught. Without an eschatological sense of time, we become trapped in the now. Without the word of the prophet, religion becomes no more than a legitimation of the status quo. [2]  


[1] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Way of the Prophet (Albuquerque, NM: Center for Action and Contemplation, 1994), audio recording. No longer available for purchase.  

[2] Adapted from Richard Rohr, The Prophets (San Antonio, TX: Catholic Charismatic Bible Institute, 1980), audio recording. No longer available for purchase.  

Image credit: A path from one week to the next—Taylor Wilson, Field of the Saints (detail), print. Taylor Wilson, Isha (detail), watercolor and cyanotype. Taylor Wilson, Ruah (detail), print. Used with permission. Click here to enlarge image

Artist Statement (Taylor Wilson): This collection is an exploration of iconic visuals.… Playing and replaying with what the ancients already knew and then taking the responsibility of sacred knowledge forward through modern expression with the Spirit. 

Story from Our Community:  

I came out as lesbian 30 years ago. I felt I could not continue to practice my Catholic faith due to the prejudice and misunderstanding I felt in my church. I grieved the loss of my faith community for half of my lifetime. In reading the Daily Meditations email “A Life of Relationship,” I realized that I had ostracized myself by having a singular spiritual relationship with God. Finding the CAC community has represented a home coming for me. I no longer feel as isolated or like a leper in my own church. I can engage in a sense of community albeit, online. I feel as if I have come in from the cold. —Jo E.

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